Declan Kelly shouting instructions against Roscommon
BRINGING players through to senior level was Declan Kelly's focus from the minute he took over as Offaly U-20 football manager four years ago but he is fully aware that Sunday's incredible All-Ireland success will present new challenges for the county.
Several of this team have the potential to go on and play senior and a few of them will establish themselves over the next few seasons but Kelly spoke about the new territory that this presents for Offaly football.
He said: “Our remit from day one has always been to get players through to the senior squad. That's the way I would have always looked at it, if you can get four or five in every year, which we have been sort of progressing, that's really what you're trying to do. No doubt, winning an All-Ireland is something that will probably bring its own challenges now in relation to players as to how they handle it, that's something we even spoke about this week, regardless of how the result went, we have to obviously look at that.
“It brings its own challenges now as to where players are. The one thing you'd say to the general public out there is that some of these lads are only 18, 19, going on 20. They're not going to be really...if they continue to do the work, you're probably looking at them maybe 23, three years time, realistically, before you'd be thinking they can establish themselves.
“That's going to be the challenge now, that really is going to be the challenge now. From a players' perspective, if they get a call into the senior squad, they really have to serve an apprenticeship in there now for a few years and I suppose the one thing you don't need there is a lad going in and all of a sudden six months later, I'm not getting a game and it's good luck to me, like. Yeah, that all has to be managed now realistically.”
He was delightd that Offaly got across the finish line in the final against Roscommon, winning a tension filled, thrilling final by 1-14 to 1-11.
“Yeah, they're about winning. We probably again were hanging on a bit at the end. In fairness Roscommon had a couple of chances early in the game where they could have got a couple of goals and in fairness if they had got the two or three goals that they threatened to, we would have been in a bit of bother. We sort of hung in, we got the goal then ourselves, probably at the right time and that gave us a bit of a cushion, even though we were hanging on a bit at the end with them getting a late goal.”
Offaly's third quarter when they scored five points on the trot was massive.
“It was really important. We weren't going particularly well, we were struggling to get our hands on the ball a bit. We got a couple of points and it was that type of a game where the scores were hard to come by at times and the goal just gave us that bit of a cushion at that time.”
He was delighted with the spread of big performances from Offaly players.
“We have been reasonably lucky in that there has been a decent spread of scorers across the team, even some of the half-backs across the season. But when you do get down to it, you do need your Jacks (Bryant) and your Aarons (Kellaghan) kicking scores. Jack missed a couple early on but I suppose he got the one important score that we needed.”
Kelly was asked where this Offaly team has come from?
“To be fair there's been a good bit of work at developmental level and underage level, there has been a good bit of work going on. This is our fourth year involved with the 20s bit you could see from the first year involved when we played the Corks, the Galway and Mayos in challenge games, we won a couple of those games, we lost a couple.
“When Kildare won the All-Ireland, we'd have played them six or eight weeks before the championship and beaten them. You knew that you were competitive anyway, Leinster is hard enough to get out of, obviously Dublin was the team up there but there was nothing between the rest of us.
“It has been building and the 2020 minors getting to the Leinster final so the whole thing was to get back being competitive and even in the hurling end of it, we have been competitive.
“You would have got fair odds to say Offaly would win the U-20 All-Ireland at the start of the year but we got on a bit of aroll and there's no doubt that the Leinster final was a big weight off the shoulders.
“It's been that long since we won a Leinster at any level in Offaly, that was definitely a big lift. People would have said then that it's been a great year but this is really the icing on the cake.
“We said we'd give the All-Ireland campaign a rattle, it was going to be quick enough anyway, you'd have a week to the semi-final and if you get over that then you'd have two weeks. It just happened to fall into place then really.”
There was a welter of excitement in the build up to the final in Offaly. Was it hard to keep players' feet on the ground?
“I didn't realise, to be quite honest, how much it meant to people until during the week. I got a couple of good luck cards from people in the post that I didn't even know, in relation to wishing the team the best of luck and all of that. You're sort of saying, 'this is striking a chord, there's no doubt about that'. In relation to shielding the lads, there's not a lot you can do in relation to flags going up. We would have got a few phone calls from Club Faithful saying, 'Do you mind....' I said, 'Go ahead...' You'd have looked well now trying to stop all that happening, you'd sort of feel like a Grinch going around. You just told them, 'Listen lads, you have a game to play next week', that would really have been the focus. And in fairness to them, you're not going to watch them 24/7 either as regards if they're on social media. Like, we told them, we advised them obviously to keep off the social networks and all that goes with it and I hope they did anyway!”
What was the dressing room like after the game?
“It was calm enough, calm enough I have to say, it was calm enough. I was nearly...a few of us got a bit emotional in there because it is...I didn't really know how to react at the end of it all because it's something that you don't really know what to do until it happens.”
He was asked about captain Kieran Dolan returning from a hamstring injury and coming on as a sub.
“We were obviously out on the Thursday against Dublin and he did the hamstring on the Monday night. So we obviously knew he was gone for that. The (All-Ireland) semi-final was the week after, he got it looked at and they sort of said he wasn't going to make that, luckily we had two weeks and in fairness he did all the training this week so he became a viable option again for us. In fairness to him, missing out on a Leinster final and to then get to play in an All-Ireland final, it's a good way to finish up alright.”
The Kilclonfert man was also asked about the influence of forward Cormac Egan.
“You probably would have heard bits and pieces in interviews, a very down to earth young lad, a very talented young gasun, down to earth. A good hurler as well, in fairness to him. He's a bit of an all rounder in fairness to the chap. It's a managing thing to be quite honest. He has two more years still at U-20. In fairness, we have been very lucky over the last three years with a John Maughan involved with us, John's mantra has been very simple; U-20s, that's where they play. Even though he would have a couple in to come back to us for matches, and that's key like, it is about developing these lads and getting them through.”
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